(Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)
As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauded the people of Burma for the historic by-election in which Aung San Suu Kyi's party claimed a landslide victory, a close aide of the Nobel peace prize laureate complained of poll frauds and said it was too early for Washington to lift sanctions.
The people of Burma, officially known as Myanmar, are "very happy" and optimistic after learning that Suu Kyi and other candidates from her party were likely to win most of the parliamentary seats at stake, Khun Thar Myint, a close aide of Suu Kyi, told The Christian Post on phone. "But they are not entirely positive," he added.
Myint, who oversees 66-year-old Suu Kyi's security among other responsibilities, had a busy day Monday as thousands of people arrived at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy in Yangon to congratulate the democracy icon. "We hope that this is the beginning of the new era, where there will be more emphasis on the role of the people in the everyday politics of the country," Suu Kyi was quoted as telling the crowd.
The results of all the 44 seats of parliament are expected to be officially announced within three days. "Our estimates suggest that we will win 43 of the 44 seats," Myint said. Suu Kyi's party is also believed to have won four seats in the capital city of Naypyitaw, where the majority of the residents are government workers and military personnel.
However, Myint said Suu Kyi's party was aware of some election frauds by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, which was formed by the ruling military before it held a general election in 2010.
Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election but the military refused to hand over power. The military government kept her under house-arrest for about two decades. She was freed on Nov. 13, 2010, a week after Burma's first elections in 20 years in which the pro-junta party won a landslide victory amid allegations of rampant rigging and frauds.
The latest election was held Sunday under the watch of dozens of observers from the European Union and a regional grouping of Southeast Asian nations. However, the observers were not given enough time to prepare for monitoring the polls.
Asked if the United States should now lift some economic sanctions to reward the reforms introduced by the USDP-led government, Myint said Washington should "watch" proceedings in parliament in the days and months to come and "wait and see" before making a decision on lifting sanctions.
Months after the 2010 general election results, the USDP government began to introduce reforms, seemingly to make a case for lifting of sanctions by Western countries and to get the chair of the regional bloc Association of South-East Asian Nations.
On Sunday, Clinton expressed hope for Burma during her visit to Istanbul, Turkey. "The United States congratulates the people who participated, many for the first time, in the campaign and election process," Reuters quoted Clinton as saying. However, she appeared to be cautious in praising the leadership of Burma. "It is too early to know what progress of recent months means and whether it will be sustained. There are no guarantees for what lies ahead for the people of Burma."
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, who pushed for sanctions on Burma in 2008, also said more reforms were needed in the country. "Now is not the time for the international community to rush toward lifting pressure on Burma," he was quoted as saying. "Far too many political prisoners are still locked behind bars, violence continues against ethnic minorities and the military dominates not only the composition but the structure of the government."
The Thailand-based Irrawaddy Magazine, which covers Burma and other Asian countries, published excerpts from a report titled "Burma's April Parliamentary By-Elections" prepared by the Congressional Research Service. "The response of the Obama administration to Burma's by-elections will depend on the conduct of the campaign, the balloting process, the veracity of the official election results, and possibly on how the winners of the elections are treated once they become members of Burma's Parliaments," said the report.
Zoya Phan, who works at Burma Campaign, U.K., and is from Burma's ethnic minority state of Karen, pointed out that reforms were not enough to bring a lasting change. "Hundreds of political prisoners have been released, but hundreds remain in jail," she wrote for Mizzima, a news website run by exiled Burmese in India. "None of the laws that allowed them to be jailed have been repealed. Many of those released have only had their sentences suspended. There has been no pardon, no apology, no acknowledgement that they should never have been in jail in the first place."
Phan added that the government still has the power to decide if parties can register and have a say over who the party candidates can be. Fees for registering and standing candidates are also very high, she said. "This especially disadvantages small and ethnic parties … Combined with censorship and security laws which have not been repealed, it means it is impossible for the by-elections to be free and fair."
Human rights groups say the government of Buddhist-majority Burma has not brought any significant change in ethnic minority states along the country's borders with India, Thailand and China. Even as the by-election was held Sunday, Burmese soldiers were at war with armed resistance groups in ethnic minority groups that have been demanding autonomy for decades – a war that has witnessed thousands of civilian casualties.
U.S.-based group Partners World released a report, titled "Crimes in Northern Burma: Results from a Fact-Finding Mission to Kachin State," in December 2011. Based on eyewitness interviews of at least 200 people affected by the conflict in Christian-majority Kachin State, the report documented torture, extra-judicial killing, civilian casualties, human shielding, unlawful arrest, forced labor, forced relocation, displacement, property theft and destruction allegedly by Burmese soldiers.